Program offers education, faith foundation to youths charged as adults

By Joe Birch - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A new program aims to help many juveniles charged as adults turn their lives around.

Jail East is a new program designed to help turn around people under the age of 18 accused to serious crimes, including murder and aggravated robbery.

One of the pods inside Jail East houses more than 40 teenage boys charged as adults.

Lashaue, 15, said he needs the help.

"You got somebody in here trying to help us, trying to help me," Lashaue said.  "I need help."

Derrick Ross began teaching teens accused of adult crimes two months ago.

"They're children," Ross said.  

Ross said his favorite aspect about teaching the young people is the desire they show to change.

"The thing I love about it probably more than anything is the hunger that the children show you," Ross said.  "They want to show you that they're something other than what they've been charged for."

Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell won a two year grant for a Juveniles in Jail program.  The grant pays teacher Derrick Ross as well as manager Judy McEwen, who moved to Jail East from Juvenile Court.

"We needed to do this," Luttrell said.

McEwen quickly created a program designed for incarcerated adolescent minds.

"They're uneducated with very little faith foundation," Luttrell said.  "We're focusing on education.  We're trying to get them focused as far as a faith orientation."

A placement test is given to each young person to determine his grade level.  The appropriate schooling then begins.

Participants in the program said it has been very beneficial.

"Instead of being on 10th or 11th grade, I'm on a college level in ... math and stuff," Emmanuel, 17, said, "ready to get my GED and go to college."

"Now that we've got the program, we got people coming in who really care about you and sit down and tell you their testimony," Joseph, 17, said.

Earlier this month, 24 of the young men chose to be baptized.  They created a banner saying, "There's Hope."

Terrance, 17, who is accused of six aggravated robberies, said the program has turned his life around.

"If it wasn't for this program, I wouldn't have no dreams," Terrance said.  "My dream before was to get out there and rob people."

Chain link fencing surrounds the stairs and balconies where the young men await trial as adults in criminal court.  Their new pod within Jail East once housed only female prisoners.

Chief Jailer James Coleman keeps the young people charged as adults here until their 18th birthday.

"I've never felt a young kid should be in an adult facility," Coleman said.

After their 18th birthday, the law then says they must be moved to adult jail at 201 Poplar.

McEwen said members of rival gangs have begun working together for peace in Jail East.

Volunteers are being invited to speak to the children.  If you would like to help, call Juveniles in Jail manage Judy McEwen at (901) 508-3122.

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